Will 'Captain Phillips' Steer Tom Hanks to Oscar Glory Once Again?
by Joey Magidson
October 11, 2013
Once upon a time, Tom Hanks was just about as golden a god to the Academy as there was. Not only did he accomplish the seemingly impossible feat of winning back to back Best Actor statues (for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump), but he's constantly considered one of the more revered Oscar winners in history. These days he's lost a little of his critical luster due to a focus on less, why don't we say, taxing roles, but he's back in top form in the new Paul Greengrass film Captain Phillips (now playing in theaters). As such, he's once again got Oscar buzz surrounding him, and trust me… it's warranted. Furthermore, I truly believe that Hanks could be a few months away from winning his third Best Actor Oscar. High praise, I know, but hear me out!
First of all, if you're reading this, Captain Phillips is most likely out in a theater near you, so make sure you run out and see it. This is a riveting thriller made absolutely exceptional by one of the best performances that Hanks has ever delivered. Greengrass is at the top of his game, the script by Billy Ray is lean and mean, while the cinematography, editing, and score all contribute to an incredibly tense experience that's phenomenally rewarding. That being said, Hanks completely leads the way here. Ever since the film was screened for a few select members of the press, buzz has been building, so now you can see what the fuss is all about and how Greengrass/Hanks manage to live up to the considerable hype.
I think it's a foregone conclusion that Hanks is about to receive Best Actor nomination number five for his work here, but I'm going to go one further and posit that he's actually as much of a frontrunner to win the Oscar as any of his competition currently is. Other strong Best Actor hopefuls like Bruce Dern (in Nebraska), Chiwetel Ejiofor (in 12 Years a Slave), Oscar Isaac (in Inside Llewyn Davis), Matthew McConaughey (in Dallas Buyers Club), and Robert Redford (in All is Lost) are as good as advertised, I can vouch for that much, but none really have the same appeal to voters that Hanks does.
What I mean by that is, quite simply, the Academy has shown a desire to reward Hanks before, and they've actively ignored many of the above actors previously. Some of them are still looking for nomination number one, which is sometimes an impediment to winning in Best Actor right off the bat. The Academy could very well be in a mood to reward a veteran, and while they could go out of their way for Dern or Redford, the easier vote would clearly be to anoint Hanks as even more of an Oscar royal than he already is.
A big factor that helps his candidacy is that, aside from Ejiofor in 12 Years, Hanks is in the only contender that actually stands a shot of winning Best Picture, too. Both 12 Years a Slave and Captain Phillips will do very well on nomination morning (neither should get less than a half dozen citations, and I wrote about the former's potential impediments to a win here), so having those votes already spread out among the different facets of the Academy only aids in giving Hanks a leg up in the race.
Where else could Captain Phillips do well, you ask? Well, it's almost assuredly getting nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay to go along with the Best Actor nod that sparked this piece. Also in play, we should likely see noms for Best Cinematography, Film Editing, and possibly Original Score, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. If the Academy happens to go totally wild over this flick, you could even see Barkhad Abdi (who plays one of the main Somali pirates that hijacks the ship) possibly show up in Best Supporting Actor. That would be a clear sign that Hanks and the film itself could be heading for wins.
This film, and Hanks himself, will clearly need to gain early momentum in order to make wins more than just a theory of mine, but I think a lot of the same precursors that embraced Kathryn Bigelow's thriller Zero Dark Thirty (which only won for Sound Editing despite receiving five total nominations) last year will go for Captain Phillips this year. Not all of them will, for sure, but I'm fairly confident that it won't be sunk by the early awards announcements.
As it stands now, Captain Phillips looks like the main competition for 12 Years a Slave in a lot of categories, at least among what's actually been screened so far. We're still waiting on American Hustle (I spoke of its candidacy here), The Monuments Men (the chances of which I discussed here), and apparently Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street to potentially upend the race, but until those films are seen by people like myself, it really seems like these two flicks are the ones to beat. 12 Years a Slave may have the upper hand in a bunch of categories, but one place where Captain Phillips definitely looks like it could emerge victorious is in the Best Actor race. Gun to my head, I say Hanks takes that statue over Ejiofor.
A lot can and still likely will change, but as I currently see it, Captain Phillips is a top tier Oscar player and Hanks himself is the prohibitive frontrunner for Best Actor. I wouldn't be the house on a Hanks victory, but the cards could easily line up in such a way that his win becomes all but inevitable. At the moment though, just leave that puzzle for me to solve and go out and catch Captain Phillips. It's quite frankly one of the better movies you'll see all year, with one of the absolutely best performances of the year contained within.